NEWS

Reshuffle option looms large

Speculation about a possible government reshuffle, aimed at creating a more efficient cabinet that can quickly implement crucial economic reforms, mounted Friday following reports that Prime Minister Lucas Papademos told his predecessor, George Papandreou, that he is planning certain ?initiatives? following disputes between ministers.

According to sources, Papademos told Socialist PASOK leader Papandreou that he was planning certain changes, though no details were revealed.

Rumors about a reshuffle started to swirl on Thursday following reports that the prospect had been discussed between the PM and the leaders of the three parties in his coalition.

Friday?s meeting came a day after a tense cabinet meeting on Thursday, during which controversial plans to streamline the bloated public sector pitted ministers against each other. Ironically, the biggest rifts do not appear to be between ministers from different parties but within PASOK, which is increasingly unsettled as cadres prepare for a leadership challenge to Papandreou.

Friday, Administrative Reform Minister Dimitris Reppas, who was entrusted with a scheme aimed at pushing 30,000 civil servants into a labor reserve scheme — involving a heavily docked salary for a year ahead of a status review — responded to criticism from Education Minister Anna Diamantopoulou and Health Minister Andreas Loverdos regarding his handling of the project. Only 10,000 public servants have been inducted into the scheme and most of these opted for early retirement.

Reppas claimed the main aim of the scheme was to ?send a political message abroad,? and accused certain peers of seeking exemptions from the tough reforms agreed with foreign creditors.

Auditors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, who leave Athens today after 10 days of negotiations, are said to have warned government officials that a deal on a second bailout should not be regarded as a given. The auditors are reportedly angry at delays in the implementation of reforms and expect concrete progress when they return in mid-January. Otherwise a second rescue package, comprising 130 billion euros of loans, may not be released, sources told Kathimerini.